Contributing Editor Matt Rodbard is currently traveling around Vietnam with four American chefs. He’ll be filing stories from the road, as well as posting to our Twitter and Instagram pages. The trip has been organized by our friends at Red Boat Fish Sauce.
The morning brought a visit to the Duong Dong Wet Market (Read: Epic Market Time, Phu Quoc Edition: 10 Photos From The Duong Dong Wet Market) while the evening had our crew of four chefs firing up the grills for a casual, family style dinner that was fueled by minor jetlag, plenty of Saigon beer and some real inspiration that was found at the steamy market, and later from a visit to the Red Boat fish sauce factory.
With the late-afternoon sun setting over the Gulf Of Thailand, the chefs scrambled for dull kitchen cleavers and any available hotel pans to beginning their 2-3 courses. I was paired to help out Stuart Brioza with trimming onions and picking fresh green pepper corns, so he was naturally my pony. (Not a competition by any means, there was still a current of polite competitiveness, given the two Top Chef alums had done this sort of thing on cable television.)
Paul Qui did grilled prawns in a “sweet and sour” tamarind and tomato sauce, as well as a coconut curry soup that brought together grilled cobia, turmeric and fish sauce. Edward Lee found some pork at the market and built a fish head soup that sort of resembled a Malaysian laksa. Beer, bourbon, lime and pineapple married well with the pork, shrimp and herbs. He added grilled squid strips at the last minute because, why the fuck not. Bryan Caswell did barbecue crab with cheery bourbon sauce and snapper in the half shell, as well as the night’s big winner — blistered dragon beans that resembled shishito peppers. We’re trying to find seeds to smuggle back to the States, which we are most certainly not kidding about.
Stuart Brioza was pumped up with some papaya he had spotted at the market, and built a salad with shiso, chrysanthemum leaves and ripe avocado. A lemon vinaigrette tied it together. He also did a whole grilled squid with fiery chilies and kalamansi, keeping the cephalopod whole with the quill in. But that papaya salad, it was my favorite dish of the night.